We had the good fortune of connecting with Yi-Hsuan (Ant) Ma and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Yi-Hsuan (Ant), what is the most important factor behind your success?
“Coming from a different culture and background of literature training, her approach to design is interdisciplinary and inclusive.”
I would say the most important factor behind my “dream” success is to always explore the core of the story, finding comprehensive perspectives on visual storytelling.
Everyone needs a story. I always believe, being a theater/film artist is to open a conversation for all different contexts of culture by sharing stories to connect each other. I think my personality really helps that — I’m not shy away from asking direct questions, always have a deep curiosity about people and processes, and not to mention my terrific sense of humor and sense of adventure, that drives me to randomly jump on a bike exploring the real New York neighborhood to neighborhood, and diving into new materials and projects in creative (chaotic) ways.
Based on formed conceptual skills and strength of character, my works show a unique and sophisticated design sensibility that is both lyrical and political.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I am originally from Taiwan. As a scenic and production designer, people describe me as a person with an enormous amount of determination. Throughout my school training and working experiences, I widely cultivated perspectives in the visual arts. In addition to my major in scenic design, I took a keen interest in many other professions in playwright and photography. Different materials’ experimental usage trained me not only in my creative exploration but also in my practical abilities. Moreover, my second major for literature in college has helped me develop my logical thinking in analyzing scripts and visualizing their words into scenes.
Before I came to the US, I traveled around Europe, specifically as a freelancer working in Berlin for a year. That’s a charming and crazy city. I develop more attachment to myself during traveling, maybe because I don’t understand any German, I have a lot of time to talk to myself. (smile) I realize my ideas are challenging intellectually but rooted in strong instincts and intuition.
Now, I’m standing on this land. Being an immigrant artist in the US is never an easy thing, especially language becomes the biggest challenge when you can’t express yourself properly. Thanks to my talented collaborators and colleagues surrounding me, here I mention one of my proud works during Covid, called Samuel, a new audio-visual experience for the theater – invites audience members to listen to audio scenes on their own devices as they explore an unnerving visual dollhouse world.
I want to tell more stories about those beautiful human beings, and also share my generosity of spirit, optimism and self-sufficiency.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
The first thing that immediately comes to my mind is theater and the independent cinema in New York. Not only the famous Broadway theater, but also a LOT of OFF Broadway theaters are producing experimental new plays! I’m always interested in the performance which explores the relationship between characters and the environment, involving the audience’s participation immersively in storytelling. You can find very diverse topics which usually reflect what the society is facing and concerning.
There are also many independent cinemas hiding inside the streets in Soho, China town, Brooklyn etc.
Only recommendation for food and drink, it definitely will be bubble tea! (For my friends who are not Taiwanese!) I can’t imagine there are no tea shops in New York. Check out those two tea shops: Blue Mountain Tea (online order) and Wanpo Tea.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
During the whole year’s quarantine and remote classes in my last year in MFA program, I was so inspired that a lot of theater/film industry people were still able to hold many virtual events, such as playwrights’ panel conversations, gathering online to discuss more possible solutions to keep creating art in this challenging time. In addition, the most I appreciate the performance art field is the spirit for supporting artists (ex: See Lighting Foundation -a fundraiser for immigrant theater artists financially impacted by covid-19) and building diversity by giving voice to its expression in art, stories, and philosophies.
Luckily, a film I did production design for, Piglet Piglet, which was shot in Taiwan, right before the pandemic, screened in The 20th NYAFF (New York Asian Festival), The 44th AAIFF (Asian American International Film Festival) and the 2021 Taipei Film Festival. Most of them are virtual this year, I was glad to share Taiwanese’s story with the world. At the same time, my series of photographs about New York under the pandemic, were chosen in The Olio Collection, an art exhibition in the Civilian Hotel, opening this year!
The pandemic era of 2020 reminds us how fragile human lives can be and how easily a society can lose its function. The American ideals of freedom are getting more divided than ever, and the way we treat others who are foreign to “us” is often to maintain ignorance. I wish I could be the one of those artists, individuals and companies who are trying so hard to let things happen. In this multicultural community, no single person or group has perfect knowledge of all things, and for this reason, we believe that dialogue is the key to creating stories.
Pigletpiglet, director: Tsung-Yen Lin / Heir To The Throne, director: Pepe Cuart Capo / The Big Pitch, director: Robert Enriquez / Samuel, photo by Toby Tenenbaum